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Before the Maria sailed again, with the men who formed a part of Wylie's crew, he made them sign a declaration before the English Consul at Buenos Ayres. This document set forth the manner in which the Proserpine foundered; it was artfully made up of facts enough to deceive a careless listener; but, when Wylie read it over to them he slurred over certain parts, which he took care, also, to express in language above the comprehension of such men. Of course they assented eagerly to what they did not understand, and signed the statement conscientiously.
So Wylie and his three men were shipped on board the Boadicea, bound for Liverpool, in Old England, while the others sailed with Captain Slocum for Nantucket, in New England.
The Boadicea was a clipper laden with hides and a miscellaneous cargo. For seventeen days she flew before a southerly gale, being on her best sailing point, and, after one of the shortest passages she had ever made, she lay to, outside the bar, off the Mersey. It wanted but one hour to daylight, the tide was flowing; the pilot sprang aboard.
"What do you draw?" he asked of the master.
"Fifteen feet, barely," was the reply.
"That will do," and the vessel's head was laid for the river.
They passed a large bark, with her topsails backed.
"Ay," remarked the pilot, "she has waited since the half-ebb; there ain't more than four hours in the twenty-four that such craft as that can get in."
"What is she? An American liner?" asked Wylie, peering through the gloom.
"No," said the pilot; "she's an Australian ship. She's the Shannon, from Sydney."
The mate started, looked at the man, then at the vessel. Twice the Shannon had thus met him, as if to satisfy him that his object had been attained, and each time she seemed to him not an inanimate thing, but a silent accomplice. A chill of fear struck through the man's frame as he looked at her. Yes, there she lay, and in her hold were safely stowed 160,000 pounds in gold, marked lead and copper.
Wylie had no luggage nor effects to detain him on board; he landed, and, having bestowed his three companions in a sailors' boarding-house, he was hastening to the shipping agents of Wardlaw & Son to announce his arrival and the fate of the Proserpine. He had reached their offices in Water Street before he recollected that it was barely half past five o'clock, and, though broad daylight on that July morning, merchants' offices are not open at that hour. The sight of the Shannon had so bewildered him that he had not noticed that the shops were all shut, the streets deserted. Then a thought occurred to him--why not be a bearer of his own news? He did not require to turn the idea twice over, but resolved, for many reasons, to adopt it. As he hurried to the railway station, he tried to recollect the hour at which the early train started; but his confused and excited mind refused to perform the function of memory. The Shannon dazed him.
At the railway-station he found that a train had started at 4 A.M., and there was nothing until 7:30. This check sobered him a little, and he went back to the docks; he walked out to the farther end of that noble line of berths, and sat down on the verge with his legs dangling over the water. He waited an hour; it was six. o'clock by the great dial at St. George's Dock. His eyes were fixed on the Shannon, which was moving slowly up the river; she came abreast to where he sat. The few sails requisite to give her steerage fell. Her anchor-chain rattled, and she swung round with the tide. The clock struck the half-hour; a boat left the side of the vessel and made straight for the steps near where he was seated. A tall, noble-looking man sat in the stern-sheets beside the coxswain; he was put ashore, and, after exchanging a few words with the boat's crew, he mounted the steps which led him to Wylie's side, followed by one of the sailors, who carried a portmanteau.
He stood for a single moment on the quay, and stamped his foot on the broad stones; then, heaving a deep sigh of satisfaction, he murmured, "Thank God!"
He turned toward Wylie.
"Can you tell me, my man, at what hour the first train starts for London?"
"There is a slow train at 7:30 and an express at 9."
"The express will serve me, and give me time for breakfast at the Adelphi. Thank you; good morning;" and the gentleman passed on, followed by the sailor.
Wylie looked after him; he noted that erect military carriage and crisp, gray hair and thick white mustache; he had a vague idea that he had seen that face before, and the memory troubled him.
At 7:30 Wylie started for London; the military man followed him in the express at 9, and caught him up at Rugby; together they arrived at the station at Euston Square; it was a quarter to three. Wylie hailed a cab, but, before he could struggle through the crowd to reach it, a railway porter threw a portmanteau on its roof, and his military acquaintance took possession of it.
"All right," said the porter. "What address, sir?"
Wylie did not hear what the gentleman said, but the porter shouted it to the cabman, and then he did hear it.
"No.-- Russell Square."
It was the house of Arthur Wardlaw!
Wylie took off his hat, rubbed his frowzy hair, and gaped after the cab.
He entered another cab, and told the driver to go to "No.-- Fenchurch Street."
It was the office of Wardlaw & Son.
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